Divrei Torah

Parshat Bereishit :: For the Polymath who Presupposes Purpose


Parshat Bereishit :: For the Polymath who Presupposes Purpose

At the twilight of their birth day, Adam and Eve stepped o’er the horizon toward their full-fledged home, their Sabbath shelter. Silence in their first consciousness together. G-d Dresses, Addresses and then Redresses them. Is it preferable to blush? Its song wills a spire untoward. Primordial us, longing to be unforwarded.

Within the very first word of Creation — Bereishit (bet-resh-aleph-shin-yud-taf) — there lie two salient words, Shabbat (shin-bet-taf) and Yirah (yud-resh-aleph.) These two central Jewish concepts reflect concomitant oppositional prognostication in our attitudinal honor towards life. Whereas Yirah means “fear,” Shabbat contains the words Shav (“return”) and Bat (“daughter”). The eldest daughter came home. Shabbat is returning home to our children to be newly-born as adults, as inchoate as Adam and Chava.

Many people live frenetically, jealously, zealously. This is Yirah run amok. Fear is a delicate Presence echoing in easily-toppled structures. All are paralyzed somewhere. Our trajectories are sabotaged from within. Fear admits to us that G-d might easily Reject our prayers, our intensest intents — and we know just where, in the knotty thorns of our despair. Kayin’s offering, for example, was found wanting and insincere, which left him alone, lonely, and exposed. Havel’s offering was wholeheartedly received, leaving him unprotected, killed by his bloodcurdlingly envious brother. G-d did not save Havel, rather He only warned Kayin: “Sin crouches at your doorstep.” G-d Advises Kayin not to do it, advice that he rejects, just like his father Adam denied G-d’s injunction against the eating. There is no armor even if your fervent sacrifices or ardent prayers are received by G-d. Yirah is the unsettling feeling of hearing your mind’s eye say “I am stilted, still displaced.” This is the fear of death’s future coming too quickly, arriving before we have found our way home.

Shabbat is a polar opposite of yearning within. Shabbat thrills in life, calling for us. It is our past nascence, now begun; its own tautology, love upon love. Such sensation is a cool breeze in a pristine oasis surrounded by the blandishment of deadly desert. Shabbat blesses us with nowness. Shabbat says “Enter here. You are alive in eternality. You belong to forever.” Shabbat contains the final two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, Shin and Taf, interrupted by the relational letter of the alphabet, Bet. The Bet symbolizes each of us in relation through G-d to the world around us, before the end of our individual existence as evidenced by the Shin and Taf. The Bet remains immutable throughout our lives. We instinctively know that our pure soul in relation is incorruptible, has always sustained, has never been lost or fragmented — not from Sinai’s desert, not till Jerusalem today.


By shir poetic will, we should try to embody Shabbat earlier and earlier in the week. Men and women were first created late Friday eve. Let chutzpah enter Shabbos immediately after womankind was formed, foregoing the whole enterprise with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Could not humanity stroll directly up the Tree of Eternal Life where Shabbos resides and glean it within? The essence of Shabbat is to glimpse the Shabbos Queen. The Holy Temple itself resides inside our dreamlike resting day. The family tisch on Friday night is the Kodesh Kodashim, the Holy of Holies. Furthermore, we know that after Havdalah, Shabbat can be delayed as far as the first sighting of three stars on Yom Hashlishi, which the Eibishter declared to be “Ki Tov,” extremely good. The sages tell us to change the proportion of six days of Yirah and one day of Shabbat into every day Shabbos-filled, fulfilled, and full. O, how we pine to be Shabbosful!

If we’re lucky, we might even include the animal kingdom also created on the sixth day. Why preclude the fifth-day birds of the air who re-form life to spear and peer into Heaven, appearing upon our restless planet where life rumbles and rambles and crumbles together? Why not reap deeply the mind of Thursday itself?


In relation to our sabbath liberation, Yirah is paralysis. In relation to G-d, Yirat Hashem is permission to be overwhelmed by closeness, whereas Ahavat Hashem is feeling undermined because I’m not yet close enough. Ahavat Hashem is Shabbos-love, compelling to the Ever-closer; infinite pursuit. Within the word Yirah is the word Re’i, “mirror” — our fear is that a direct reflection of the soul may end in self-scorn. It is the legend of the midrash that no one could see G-d face-to-face. The prophets that did see G-d saw G-d through a speckled glass, but Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest prophet of all, saw G-d clearer. Our task is to try to clear and cleanse the obscure glass through which we view Hashem. To define divine motion deep inside a still-buried paralysis, we must believe in the Shabbat we carry within ourselves. We are enabled to revivify and even reify, inviting G-d to Dwell in our hobbled structures. The holy Mishkan might be fully ours once we develop such Tzidkut, genuine righteousness.

In the holy enterprise of self-renewal through family on Shabbat, we return each week to honor the blessing we knew. G-d Creates us, Enjoining us to retrieve our family story. In our adult machinations, we build our own family sanctuaries in order to bring G-d back into His temple, justifying our existence. Shabbat is our eternal present and our bright future, and Yirah is the halting uncertainty of the entire enterprise. Is this holiness real? Doubt undoes love.

G-d Creates a customized and personalized Garden of Eden for each of us, replete with our own snake. The majestic challenge of human existence is for everyone to remain in the perpetual loop of Bereishit. In each transition, begin anew. Shabbat Shalom.


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